Low-fat chocolate milk is promoted by many fitness experts as a less expensive, more convenient alternative to pricey “recovery” drinks.
Olga Hays, an American Council on Exercise-certified wellness promotion specialist at Sharp HealthCare, says consumers have embraced this notion for good reasons.
“Chocolate milk has the ideal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio (similar to that of many commercial recovery beverages) that provides all the nutrients that your body needs to replenish itself from hard-core exercising,” she says.
Two ways chocolate milk can help post-exercise recovery
According to some studies, low-fat chocolate milk can help as a post-workout drink in two areas:
- Rehydration. After a workout, we need to replenish essential nutrients lost through sweating. Milk naturally provides a good supply of electrolytes such as calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium — all of which you lose through perspiration.
- Recovery. After a workout, you need to consume some carbs to replenish glycogen (energy) stores. You also need high-quality, fast-absorbing whey protein for repairing and rebuilding muscle. Chocolate milk happens to be a naturally occurring source of both carbs and protein.
It’s all in the timing
“In order to enhance recovery, you need to take in the carbohydrates and protein within the first two hours after strenuous exercise,” says Hays. This is known as the “window of opportunity” in the fitness community. If you wait longer, it could take more time to bring glycogen stores to their natural levels.
Workout intensity matters
“Chocolate milk can be a very effective recovery beverage, but before you switch to it, evaluate your workout intensity first,” says Hays.
Chocolate milk is an appropriate recovery drink for high-endurance athletes such as long-distance runners, cyclists and swimmers, Hays says. Competing athletes need high levels of calories, carbs and protein to sustain that level of performance. For those of us who participate in recreational or moderate training, downing chocolate milk post workout (or any other recovery sports drink) can do more harm than good, due to extra calories and sugar content — as many as 26 grams per drink.
For recreational athletes, Hays suggests sticking to water for hydration and a real snack that contains lean protein and carbohydrates for recovery.
“A good example of a post-workout meal is to combine plain Greek yogurt for protein with half of a cut-up banana for carbs,” she says. “To replenish lost electrolytes, try coconut water. It’s filled with electrolytes like potassium, and happens to be one of the most hydrating fluids you can consume post-exercise.”
According to Hays, proper nutrition is only one part of the recovery process; she suggests the following tips:
- Rest — Resting and waiting after a hard workout allows the repair and recovery process to happen at a natural pace.
- Relax — Get in the habit of coming down slowly after exercise: take your time, shower, relax.
- Sleep — Make sure to get enough sleep because sleep is when your body does its best muscle building and repairing.
- Stretch — A component of a successful recovery is gentle stretching post workout. This is a simple and fast way to help your muscles recover.
“Post-workout refueling with recovery drinks such as chocolate milk is imperative if you work out twice a day or engage in prolonged intense workouts,” says Hays. “But for the vast majority of us, our next snack or meal, consisting of lean proteins and complex carbs, will be perfectly sufficient for refueling and recovery.”